Death penalty abolitionist Sr. Helen Prejean, C.S.J., will share the latest steps on her journey to change minds – and laws – against capital punishment during an upcoming program at St. Bonaventure University.
Sr. Helen will speak at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2, in the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts on campus. Her talk, titled “Dead Man Walking: The Journey Continues,” is free and open to the public.
Since 1984, Sr. Helen has divided her time between educating citizens about the death penalty and counseling individual death row prisoners. She has been instrumental in sparking national dialogue on the death penalty and helping to shape the Catholic Church’s newly vigorous opposition to state executions.
Most recently, Sr. Helen became one of the fiercest defenders of Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip, who received a stay of execution Sept. 29 just moments before he was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection. The 37-day stay was issued by the Oklahoma governor after last-minute questions were raised about the state’s execution protocol and chemicals used for lethal injection. Glossip’s advocates say he is innocent of murder.
“Sr. Helen has been recognized around the world for her advocacy on behalf of condemned prisoners,” said University President Sr. Margaret Carney, O.S.F. “She has influenced Catholic teaching on capital punishment and demonstrated a courage unique in our time.”
Sr. Helen is a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph. She spent her first years with the Sisters teaching religion to junior high school students. Realizing that being on the side of poor people is an essential part of the gospel, she moved into the St. Thomas Housing Project in New Orleans and began working at Hope House from 1981 to 1984.
During this time, she was asked to correspond with death row inmate Patrick Sonnier at Angola. She agreed and became his spiritual adviser. After witnessing his execution, she wrote a book about the experience. “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States” became a movie, an opera, and a play for high schools and colleges.
Sr. Helen has accompanied six men to their deaths. In doing so, she began to suspect that some of those executed were not guilty. This realization inspired her second book, “The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions,” which was released by Random House in December of 2004.
Sr. Helen is working on another book, “River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.”
Her visit to St. Bonaventure is part of the university’s #RaceMatters series that was designed to spur positive communication about race issues.
Many of the #RaceMatters topics have a direct tie-in with the campus common read for 2015-16, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson. The All Bonaventure Reads selection explores the inequity embedded in the U.S. criminal justice system and focuses mainly on the work of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., a legal practice Stevenson founded as a young lawyer.
Following Sr. Helen’s talk, copies of “Dead Man Walking” and “Death of Innocents” will be available for purchase in the arts center atrium. She will also be available to sign the books.
For more information about St. Bonaventure’s #RaceMatters programs, visit www.sbu.edu/RaceMatters.
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